Little Museums, Big Impact
Amanda Schochet ’11, MS ’14, has big dreams for very small museums. Imagine you’re at the airport and your flight has been delayed for hours. Between staring at your phone or the news ticker on television, you see a crowd gathering around a tall box. There, you discover that mollusks have lived on our planet for some 650 million years, and perhaps you start up a conversation with a stranger about how octopuses can remember human faces.
“When the whole museum is just two feet wide, the only option is to crowd
together,” says Schochet, co-founder of MICRO, the nonprofit organization that’s shrinking the museum experience and bringing it to the masses. “Learning becomes social. Someone will start laughing, and another person will come over to find out what is so funny. Children will begin to ask each other questions. That’s my favorite part—activating these civic spaces where most people usually don’t interact.”
Based in New York City, the MICRO team launched its first museum in November 2017. “The Smallest Mollusk Museum” is contained within an asymmetrical box about the size of a vending machine. Inside are 15 natural history exhibits,
including eight sculptures, five videos, three optical illusions and one animated hologram. Each “chapter” is creatively designed to lure in even the most hurried passerby with eye-catching multimedia, 3-D printed models and infographics.
“At UC San Diego, I studied insects,” says Schochet, a biology major from Sixth College. “I had a hard time convincing people that invertebrates are worth paying attention to. Now all of a sudden I see these very cosmopolitan people caring about slimy, tentacled, spineless creatures, which is really exciting.”
MICRO museums are made to bring a quality educational experience to highly trafficked areas where people are prone to waiting—from train stations to hospitals and libraries. Venues can purchase museum installations that range from one month to a year, and with the support of philanthropic organizations, MICRO is able to partner with community institutions that may not have such a budget. Additionally, while traditional museums are often clustered in wealthier neighborhoods—Manhattan has more than 85, compared to eight in the Bronx—MICRO museums democratize the museum experience, so that the awe and wonder is available without admission. “Our museums are free to the public because we believe that access to high-quality science is empowering,” says Schochet. “With a new museum series joining the fleet every year, this is science for everyone; museums that can go everywhere.”